KENNEBUNK — Sea glass. Beach glass. Mermaid tears.

Whatever you call it, it’s treasure for fans who comb beaches around the world in search of smooth and frosted pieces of glass tossed around the ocean floor for decades. Serious devotees post about their finds in online forums, go to annual conventions to show off their best pieces and keep lists of the rare sea glass they dream of finding.

Now a local lover of sea glass hopes to tap into that enthusiasm by opening a museum in Kennebunk and creating an exhibit that will travel the country to show off some of the more unusual and rare pieces collected.

Danielle Perreault, a Saco resident who started The Sea Glass Center with her sister, said the goal of the museum is to present a world-class collection and preserve colorful relics that are becoming harder to come by.

“There’s such a history that goes along with each piece,” Perreault said.

She and her sister, Aimee Thorman of Ohio, launched the nonprofit in January and have already received donations of sea glass from across the country and as far away as Australia. They aim to raise $750,000 through grants and donations to create what they say will be a one-of-a-kind, interactive exhibit that could be moved to museums, aquariums and educational settings. They hope to have the exhibit built by the end of 2016.

The effort, whether it succeeds or not, reflects the strong passion that many coastal Mainers and people around the world have for the trash-turned-treasure.

“There’s a whole culture of collecting sea glass,” Thorman said. “It’s kind of like treasure hunting. You pick up the piece and you know there’s a story behind it.”

Sea glass is basically yesterday’s castaways, pieces of bottles, jars and other objects that tumbled along the sea floor and in the surf until, with smoothed edges, they washed up onto a beach. To a sophisticated collector, the color or shape can sometimes reveal the age of the glass fragment, and the story behind it.

With 3,500 miles of coastline in the state, many coastal Maine homes have a jar or bowl filled with sea glass collections.

The Maine museum’s collection will get a boost this spring from former first lady Barbara Bush, who collects sea glass that washes up near her home at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport.

In a handwritten letter in response to Perreault’s request for a donation of sea glass, Bush wrote that she and others who visit the family retreat often find sea glass “next to our own driveway on the ocean side.” She said she makes sure that any glass fragments with sharp edges get returned to the sea so the edges can get worn down like proper sea glass.

“Many collect it and it is not real sea glass so at the end of the summer I throw it out to be beaten by the waves all winter and hope it turns up again,” she wrote.

Perreault has also written to other famous coastal residents, including craft and design guru Martha Stewart and actor John Travolta, to ask if they collect sea glass and would like to donate to the collection. Stewart is known to be a fan. Her website has do-it-yourself tips for turning sea glass into jewelry and home decorations, and recommends some good hunting locations in Maine, including Monhegan Island and Mount Desert Island.

“There’s a real long tradition of sea glass in the Northeast,” said Cass Forrington, who runs the International Sea Glass Museum in Fort Bragg, Calif., one of the only U.S. museums in operation.

Stewart helped propel the popularity of sea glass by featuring it on her television show and in her magazine, Forrington said.

“It’s always a treasure hunt for people,” he said.

Some elite sea glass hunters travel to remote beaches to look for special colors and types of glass to add to increasingly valuable collections. And there are at least eight annual sea glass festivals held on the East and West coasts and in the Great Lakes region, some of which draw more than 5,000 visitors to see, buy or show off sea glass.

Perreault has spent nearly her whole life searching for that treasure. She started collecting it nearly 40 years ago, as a young girl, after she found her first piece on York Beach. She “picks” for glass in Maine regularly, and has traveled as far as Puerto Rico to comb beaches.

“When I go to the beach, the whole world just melts away,” she said. “It’s so calming and peaceful. Other people feel the same way. They’ll say it’s a Zen place while they’re picking.”

Perreault has built a business around the glass. She runs The Deep Blue, a shop that sells jewelry and other items made with sea glass. The shop is separate from the collection she is building for the museum.

Perreault uses genuine, or natural, sea glass in her shop. Some retailers use rock tumblers and acids to make what purists deride as “artificial” or “imitation” sea glass. The North American Sea Glass Association even has guidelines to protect consumers against fraudulent retailers.

Since The Sea Glass Center launched its website and Facebook page in January, Perreault has received donations of sea glass from across the country, and from Scotland, Italy and Australia, she said.

Some are more common – mainly white, brown and green pieces – while others are rare, especially the red, blue and purple pieces. Perreault said part of the mission of the museum will be to try to identify the type of vessel that was the source of each piece.

“There’s hundreds of years of history right here on this table,” she said of a colorful display that included tiny bottles, wedges of glass, entire pipes and marbles. Some are from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Noxema bottles.

One rare piece – found by Perreault’s sister on a shore of Lake Erie – is the glass handle of a toy gun that came filled with candy around the turn of the 20th century. There is also Vaseline glass, sometimes called uranium glass, which glows under UV light because it contains uranium oxide.

Perreault is struggling to decide which of her own pieces to donate to the museum collection. She has amassed hundreds of pounds of sea glass, although she has no plans to stop looking.

“My collection can rival the best of them, but I don’t have enough,” she said. “You can never have enough sea glass. There’s always room for more.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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